A South African court granted bail today to Oscar Pistorius. Pistorius is accused of the premeditated murder of his girlfriend, model and lawyer Reeva Steenkamp. Although there were several arguments offered by Pistorius’ attorneys urging bail, the most interesting, for me, was their assertion that the "Blade Runner" was too famous to pose a flight risk.
The decision by Magistrate Desmond Nair was cheered by Pistorius’ family and supporters, although he, himself, showed no reaction. This is in contrast to his appearance at an earlier hearing this week wherein he broke down in almost uncontrollable tears.
The court set bail at 1 million rand ($113,000) and set the next hearing in this matter to June 4.
Pistorius’ bail conditions are as follows:
1) Hand over firearms and passports
2) Avoid his home and all witnesses in the case
3) Report to a police station twice a week
4) No alcohol or illegal drug consumption.
Prosecutors said that on Valentine’s Day, Pistorius, 26, fired four shots into a locked bathroom door, hitting Steenkamp, who was cowering on the other side. Steenkamp, 29, was hit in the head, hip and arm.
Pistorius' defense team argued the killing was a tragic accident and mistake. The athlete, they argued, had mistaken Steenkamp for an intruder.
They also said that this man is simply too well known worldwide to pose a flight risk. He deserved and needed to help his attorneys prepare for a case that is likely to be the first “trial of the century” for the 2000s.
"He can never go anywhere unnoticed," his lawyer Barry Roux told the court on Friday.
The Olympic and Paralympic star faces life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder.
Prosecutors, on the other hand, portrayed Pistorius as a cold-blooded killer.
"You cannot put yourself in the deceased's position. It must have been terrifying. It was not one shot. It was four shots," prosecutor Gerrie Nel said today.
In an affidavit, Pistorius said he had been "deeply in love" with Steenkamp. Roux asked what possible motive could Pistorius have for the killing.
Again, Pistorius claimed that he was acting in self-defense. He mistook Steenkamp for an intruder. He was unable to attach his artificial legs in time to meet the intruder head-on, his attorney said.
So, after pulling a 9-mm pistol from under his bed, he approached bathroom and fired into the shut and locked door which adjoined the bathroom. Ear witnesses say they heard a gunshots and screams coming from the athlete's home. The community is surrounded by 3-metre-high (more than 9 feet) stone walls and crowned with another electrified fence.
In perhaps the most bizarre twist yet in this case, the South African police removed their lead detective from this case just yesterday. It was revealed that he himself faced attempted murder charges in another case. He has been replaced by South Africa's top detective.
The "too famous to flee" argument posited by Pistorius' attorneys is, to say the least, novel. Although I am sure it has been used in American courts, I have never heard of it being successful. Apparently, the worship of "celebrity" in South Africa is even more overweening than it is here.
Just imagine. A super-famous accused person tells an American judge, "Where can I go, your honor, where no one would know me?" Can you see any American judge responding, "Okay, Mr./Ms. Celebrity, you are free to go. Just be back next week for your next hearing."?
I doubt it.
Meanwhile, Steenkamp gets no reprieve or bail from her death sentence.